Jen Dalitz
Little Wins

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Q: I was also hoping you might have some advice on how to return to work and put children in care?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Q: I was also hoping you might advise how best to approach what is a bad situation - how do you suggest parents proceed when it comes time to return to work and put their child/ren in care?  I realise there's no magic bullet but some good advice would help balance the depressing reality!  Thanks, Karen

A: Ahhhh… yes well there are a few issues here Karen to be aware of:

  1. finding childcare that you’ll be happy with
  2. finding a job/employer that will take you after a significant career break or time out of the workforce
  3. getting the stars and the planets to align so that you can syncronise points 1 and 2 above.

So the dilemma is that it’s incredibly difficult to commit to a preschool or early learning centre place that will cost you upwards of $120 per day per child until you’ve got a job lined up… and of course you won’t be able to start a job until you get your childcare sorted.  Classic Catch22.

The alternate is to go down the nanny route… even as an interim arrangement... though I chose not to because I preferred the structure and multi-staff team at centre and was able to juggle days to meet availability (I have over the past 6 months started using Au Pairs though to help with drop offs, errands, babysitting etc and that works really well)

I’m sure there will be some clever tips on this from readers – but in the meantime this is what I did…

I went to the CareForKids website and found all the local centres in my area that had vacancies, and that had programs that met my needs (this is pretty easy to determine – just check their accreditation details).

I then went on a tour of duty, visiting all the centres and checking out what the staff were like (you’ll get a gut feel right away on which centres you will feel happy with, where you can leave your children to be safe, have fun, learn and make friends – all the things we love about our jobs apply to our kids too while we’re at work)

Then comes the hard bit… they won’t all have vacancies so you’ll have to go on wait lists which can involve paying application fees for the privilige.  I decided to just bite the bullet and pay a waitlist fee for my preferred centre; and then I took a spot at my second choice in the meantime.

Then I declared this would be a positive experience for us all, and I started organising work.  By the way it was a huge weight off my shoulders once I met and got to know the carers at my son's early learning centre, they adored him and I adored them for it :-)... 

Now… if you have your own business, or a flexible job to go back to, you are in the box seat in terms of fitting in with the days the centre has available, versus the days you want to work.

If on the other hand you’re applying for a new job, well… good luck!

I’m sorry to say that in my experience, parents returning to work are just not the first choice for recruiters.  Not really the second or third choice actually.  So you’ll be pushing up hill. 

Why do I say this?

Last year, after my son had turned 2 years old, I had an idea that maybe a return to the corporate world was in order.  Being in frequent contact with a few recruiters that I send candidates to, I decided to put the word out that if a good opportunity came along I’d be up for it…

Within the space of days I had a number of interviews lined up, mostly in financial services which is my background, all involving senior management or executive level roles.  The first interviews (with very senior exec and direct report) went pretty well; second interviews (with peers to the role), less so.

  • “What have you been doing during your time off?” they start (building a blog with 68,000+ page views per month, winning awards in my own business, running a farm, raising my son.....)
  • “Why would you be prepared to take on this role with all the experience you’ve had – it's more junior and doesn’t pay as much as your last role?”   (yes, according to the recruiters I’d have to halve my last paycheck to get back on the treadmill – and take a lesser role - which I was prepared to do, I said, because I’m sure I can make up for lost time pretty quickly…)
  •  “So how old is your son then?” (ok so here we go down the mummy track again….)  And the conversation stops soon after that.

For one position, I had 2 interviews, then never heard back with a yes or a no (it obviously wasn’t a yes so I didn’t pursue the paid employment idea any further, but there you go…)

By this stage I decided not to go to any more interviews, it was clearly a waste of time or it at least felt that way... And I'm sure this happens to many women.  But don't let that stop you!!

For a few tips on finding an employer that values parents, perhaps try:
  •  starting with the EOWA employer of choice citations
  •  asking in interviews for examples of people you will work with who work flexibly
  • is there an onsite childcare centre? Or vacation care program?
  • enquiring whether you can buy extra days of leave to help with school holiday coverage?
  • asking how the team celebrate milestones? (if its at the pub on Friday night you’re probably going to struggle to fit in…) and
  • try meeting with potential team members at their desk to see if photos or other symbols are present as an indication that kids are not a career impediment?

Look, it's just not as easy as applying for a when you have no caring responsibilities because the employer knows - quite rightly - that they'll be playing second fiddle on occasions if your child is sick, at special events, on school holidays etc.  

Sure, there are some enlightened employers who don't mind this... I just say "good luck" in finding them!

Good luck with it!!

Your thoughts? Has something worked for you? Any tips to share?

Paul Fordyce commented on 10-Feb-2012 05:29 PM
Pmf Legal offers a unique way for legal professionals to address these problems. See also my Group on LinkedIn "Legal Professionals "Unwanted" - Finding an Alternative Workplace"
. I am grateful for the blog from your site as raising issues of concern and interest that I have in common with you. I have put a lot of thought into addressing this typical problem and the solution is completely outside the box. It is a new solution which
is being implemented right now. I won't go into my views on why the modern workplace was not built for women - and no wonder they struggle to make it work for them if they begin a family.
Leah Gibbs commented on 14-Feb-2012 10:21 AM
Great post Jen and if you don't mind, might share this one with my job seekers. It really is hard to get a good flexible job. They do exist and are out there. There are also quite a few recruitment agencies that specialise in flexible employment such as
Priorites, Nine2Three, Seed Recruitment. Also niche job boards such as, Mums At Work and Career Mums. Disclaimer: I run Lifestyle Careers. Have a great day Jen and I really enjoy your blogs
TheSheEO commented on 14-Feb-2012 01:20 PM
Of course, Leah, happy for you to share. You might wait and see what others add to the mix - always better than just one perspective... Jen :-)
Joanne commented on 14-Feb-2012 01:27 PM
Hmm just a question-those interview questions sound slightly discriminatory. I think the best route would be not to mention your children at all. I imagine employers don't ask the men how old their children are! It's none of their business and irrelevant
to your capability to do the job. Yes, it may affect your availability at times but this is something every employee with kids will face at some time or other & you can work it out when the time comes (preferably after your probationary period is over). I
think people work with their work to make it fit them once they are employed; I can't imagine anyone trying to manipulate it prior to being hired (with questions about childcare, etc.) Any HR questions should be addressed generally, what facilities are there
on site, etc. Also, if your first two interviews are unsuccessful; I'd try something different, a different route, different answers, etc for a third or fourth. Not if you don't want to of course but for those who have no other options!
TheSheEO commented on 14-Feb-2012 01:34 PM
Joanne you may be right... It would of course be possible to point out in an interview "I believe that's a discriminatory question that you wouldn't ask a male"... unfortunately that's probably going to go down like a bucket of lead in terms of progressing
to the next stage. Catch 22, perhaps?
Joanne commented on 28-Feb-2012 01:56 PM
Hi Jen, I thought the same and was trying to think of other scenarios to get around it-you could turn the question around and ask the interviewer: 'Oh, do you have kids?' Or simply; if they ask 'Do you have children?' just say 'Do you?' If kept innocent
and light-hearted they may get the drift without pointing out the obviously; I.e. 'We can always talk about our kids another time; what else does the job involve?' Or, I had another great thought; you could say 'Yes, they live with their father'. No need to
mention their father lives with you ;) According to sex discrimination act, they really shouldn't be asking those questions at all. Sex Discrimination Act 1984 Grounds of unlawful discrimination Sex, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility (dismissal
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